Earl Sweatshirt Revels In Rap's Odd Future at Warehouse Live
Photos by Francisco Montes
Earl Sweatshirt, NxWorries, Remy Banks
September 8, 2015
“Kendrick Lamar says that Earl Sweatshirt is the greatest ever.”
That was the main piece of evidence in the case made to me by a friendly stranger at Warehouse Live last night that the man we were there to see was something bigger than just another cliqued-up rapper with a couple good reviews to his name. To a sizeable portion of the young crowd that turned out to catch Earl Sweatshirt on a Tuesday night, the headliner wasn’t just their favorite rapper. He was also their favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. Was the statement even true? I took it on faith. After all, to most of these kids, a co-sign from Lamar — the leading voice of hip-hop’s youngest generation of superstars — might as well have been an edict of favor from God himself.
The bottom line is that when Mr. Sweatshirt arrived on St. Emanuel Street, the people who came to watch him go were expecting some fairly ultimate shit. The line to get into Warehouse stretched around the building as skinny teen after skinny teen nervously made his way through security. The two Army privates ahead of me had driven hours to catch the show. Anticipation was thick. Would Earl deliver?
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Hell, he couldn’t fail. I spent too much time in line to see any of opener Remy Banks’ set, and I certainly wasn’t alone. But the crowd was already getting terribly live for NxWorries, the L.A. rapper/producer combo of Anderson .Paak and Knxledge that came out second. Neither of them is exactly a household name yet, but their fingerprints are all over a couple of the biggest hip-hop albums in recent memory: .Paak as a performer on Dr. Dre’s Compton, and Knxledge as a beatmaker on Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
.Paak was all smiles onstage, belting out a strong and bouncy flow over his partner’s Macbook sounds. The smooth, jazzy production didn’t stop a bunch of bros in the crowd from exploding into a big mosh pit. Can’t remember the last time I saw that a rap show—especially for an opening act. .Paak did a nice job of redirecting the crowd’s energy into happy pogoing, but the strong whiff of testosterone lingered in the air. No question, shit was about to get nuts for Earl.
At 21, Sweatshirt is quite a young cat, still, but he’s already got some big tours under his belt. He was in full command of the crowd from the jump, held aloft by the astonishingly fluid bass. The rapper insisted on plenty of crowd participation, urging his peer group to scream along at top volume to charged hooks like, “I’ma fuck the freckles off your face, bitch.”
Earl is known for his languid, internalized flow, but on Tuesday night he emphasized every word, rapping hard like he still had plenty to prove to these people. The crowd was crunk, but it was clear that they genuinely connected deeply with the youthful uncertainty and aggression baked into bleak, booming tracks like “Grief” and “Mantra.” Some of his best stuff was delivered as a slow, underwater grind that tripped the ballroom into a kind of angry trance.
It wasn’t all heavy. Sweatshirt could also have the audience bouncing around like mad, screaming nonsense like “I’m too legited to quit it.” Judicious applications of superball bass kept things loose as the rapper worked his way through a bunch of newer material. The show wasn’t a sellout, and there was a good amount of elbow room in the back for us older heads. But the place felt full. And the energy in there made it feel inevitable that something silly was going to happen.
You don’t see a lot of mosh pits at rap shows. Why the hell would you? But one of the biggest I’ve seen at Warehouse blew up sometime toward the end of Earl’s performance — maybe during the chant-along swag favorite “DNA.” Dudes were sweating and shoving up a storm in the middle of the floor like a pack of Disturbed fans. They didn’t know where they were. They didn’t know what they were doing. All they knew was that they were having a shitload of fun.
Sweatshirt couldn’t let that pass without a salute (“That’s a fuckin’ first,” he said). All night, the young MC seemed happy to be in Houston, watching a diverse crowd of teens and twentysomethings go off hard to new shit like “Hell” that doesn’t seem to have even made it onto a record yet. By the end of the night, folks were jumping up and down, crowd-surfing, and throwing their arms around each other like they were at a Dropkick Murphys show.
Earl’s was a voice they understood and needed to hear. Powerful and still a little insecure, witty and dexterous and even a little dumb sometimes, it was the voice of youth in hip-hop. And sometimes the youth just gotta rage on a weeknight. I can get with that, just as long as you don’t knock my beer over.
Personal Bias: Firmly old-school.
The Crowd: Young, and ready to prove it. A nice mix of ethnicities.
Overheard In the Crowd: “I hope he plays some really old shit.” (From junior high, we presume.)
Random Notebook Dump: Walked to the car past a tremendous assortment of discarded lighters and pens from the endless security-wand line.
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